Like most places around the world Guernsey has its own fair share of Legends and Folklore, below is a few of those tails including Witchcraft.
Witchcraft is said to abound in the island. Both black and white witches are said to practice in Guernsey.The white witches were said to use the craft solely for the benefit of other people. They also claimed to help other islanders break curses and spells put on them by black witches.The black witches were said to practice ritual witchcraft. They held assemblies and covens to summon demons and devils.The black witches were said to be led by an unknown person, who often disguised himself as an animal.Although the leader changed, it was always known as the Devil.Reports say they usually disguised themselves as cats and goats.Guernsey witches were said to be more clever than their English counterparts.Rather than riding around on "clumsy" broomsticks, they preferred just to use their invisible fairy wings!
The headland beteen L'Eree and Perelle has had a long association with witchcraft.Known as the Catioroc, it's believed to be the meeting place for the islands witches and wizards.The island's spell casters were said to meet there on a Friday night after dark, which was known then as "le Sabbat des Sorciers".It is said that many of Guernsey's oldest and best known families have associations with sorciers.Some were even said to be sorciers by inheritance.Many years ago there was a priory on Lihou Island which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.Guernsey's witches were said to be irratated by it and dreaded it. They often moved to Rocquaine if the force from the priory disrupted their spells.Witches and wizards were also said to meet at Les Eturs, four times weekly and at the Longfrie crossroads.
The end of the witches
In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII, declared that witchcraft was heresy and a war was declared against the witches and wizards.Anyone suspected of being a witch or wizard was persecuted and often tortured into making confessions.Convicted criminals and young children could give evidence and any lawyer who supported the person accused was often marked as suspect.Anyone convicted was then burnt alive at the bottom of Tower Hill in St Peter Port.In an 80 year period from 1560 to 1640, 44 people were burnt at the stake and 35 were banished from the island for life.
Guernsey folklore is filled with stories of black and white magic. The owners of black magic books are feared whilst those who use white magic are respected.The most famous black books are Lé grand Albaërt and lé p'tit Albaërt. They contained recipes for spells and incantations, as well as astrology, metallurgy and cures.The books are said to be almost indestructible.If they are thrown in a fire or water they are said to reappear on the spot from which they were taken.The only way to get rid of them is said to be by burying them in a grave, saying a service over them and drenching the place with holy water.The books are set to put fires out when they are thrown on them and dry up wells if dropped in them.One method used is by burying the books under a mound of manure and making sure the layer just over the books is never removed.
The study of the black arts allows the witch to fight the elements and produce strange effects on the body of man or beast or to conjure up the devil to learn his secrets.One of the stories that has been handed down through the generations is of the Black Witch of Cobo.Long ago Cobo was a wild stretch of land by the sea, none of the houses or greenhouses that we see today were there.Le Guet rising on the south, to the north Grandes Rocques with its sharp and treacherous rocks on which many a sailing ship were shattered during storms.Across the Bay stretched the great chains of rocks we still see today – so beautiful in the sunlight on a calm day but so menacing when the sky is overcast and grey.There were a few small dwellings mainly occupied by Fisherman. However some quarries had been opened nearby. Many labourers were brought in from as far away as Cornwall.It was a Cornish Labourer who came into contact with the Witch. He had trouble finding accommodation for his family. He was being to despair about finding a home when he heard about a cottage at Cobo which had not had any tenants for many months.He found the landlord and was surprised that the Guernseyman seemed reluctant to let the cottage. It was the only option the Quarryman had and he begged to be allowed to rent it and was allowed to move in.He was astounded by the low rent he was charged – much less than his fellow workers.
At the same time started to hear stories about previous tenants moving out very quickly with no real explanation for why.He decided they were fools not to appreciate a home within easy reach of their work and that he was a fortunate man to have a home at last. He and his family moved in and everything went well for the first few days.Then their dog started to act strangely. It had always slept by the hearth and was a very quiet animal, but now it began to whine and to cower under the wooden table.Strange unexplainable noises were heard, Mysterious knockings on the wall, shuffling footsteps and one evening the oil lamp crashed to the ground.The frightened family spoke to their neighbours and found that no one seemed willing to talk about these unusual events.Finally they managed to get a woman to tell them every thing she knew.
Apparently the house was believed to be bewitched and the cause of the trouble was an old woman who lived nearby.Some of these previous tenants told hair-raising stories of disturbances in the night.One even went so far as to say that on a dark and stormy night when she and her friends were sitting round the fire and the wind was howling round the cottage there came a sudden frightening noise and down the chimney in a cloud of smoke and soot came the evil witch.She passed right through them and left through the keyhole leaving them shaking with terror.
There were other stories too. A woman against who the witch had a grudge said something uncomplimentary and was immediately covered in insects.Another neighbour who she disliked found he could not take his cattle past the witch’s door. The animals simply refused to move and he had to make a big detour to take them to their grazing land.Another man who annoyed her could not get his two big cart horses to pull even an empty cart. These were but a few of the many stories whispered over hedges.It was well known that she obtained her power from the two black books and that her brothers who were well aware of her evil deeds and were ashamed of her conduct and tried to destroy the books but they were not aware it was impossible to do this whilst the owner was alive.They can only be destroyed by burying them with their owner when he or she dies. One day when she was out of her cottage her brothers seized the hallowed books and put them on the fire in the hearth.They appeared to shrivel into ashes but when they turned round to leave the two books were sat on a chest in the corner of the room untouched.Another day they took the book out to the low water mark on the beach and digging a deep hole buried them in the sand and sat and watched as the tide came in and covered the spot. When they returned to the cottage the books were again on the chest.So this tale of evil doing would have continued with tenants only staying in the house for a few days and everyone in the area being afraid of the witch, had not an old man who was a white witch moved in the area.He had the power to counteract evil spells and his knowledge enabled him to thwart the witch’s evil plans. According to legend her frustration at her inability to use her powers caused her death.The black books were buried with her and the curse of the Black Witch of Cobo was over.